How to Not Get Angry or Annoyed
They say a gap exists between stimulus and response, and that in the gap we have the freedom to choose. But what they fail to mention is that that gap must be created.
I don’t even remember what he said. I just remember throwing him to the ground as hard as I could. I was twelve. Maybe thirteen.
Most people who know me now would be surprised to learn I once had a temper. Sometimes I still do. It never goes away. Not completely. You just gain more control.
I understood early in life that getting angry almost always made things worse. I watched what it made men do—saw the destruction it caused, both inside and out—and realized I needed to figure out how to avoid a similar fate.
It’s often said that there’s a gap between stimulus and response, and that in that gap, we have the freedom to choose. We don’t choose what happens to us, only how we respond, they say.
But it would be more accurate to say that a gap can exist and that we really only get a choice if we’re able to create that gap. Most people who get easily annoyed and lose their temper have very little choice in the matter. There is no gap between what happens and their response. It’s immediate. Instinctual. They have no control.
The trick to not getting angry or annoyed, then, is understanding how to create and widen the gap between the things that annoy you and feeling annoyed, between the things that anger you and getting angry.
When you’re tired or hungry or drunk, the gap gets smaller. When you’re sober, full and rested, the gap gets wider.
Controlling your breath, learning to pay attention to your thoughts, and reflecting on how you’ve responded to events in the past all widen the gap—as do exercise, nature and tea.
Feeling stressed, rushed, pressured and generally unfulfilled all narrow the gap—as does being in physical pain.
The more anxious your mind, the smaller the gap. The calmer your mind, the bigger the gap.
Understanding why you respond to certain things in certain ways widens it even further.
I get annoyed when my dog pulls on her leash. It’s annoying for a few reasons. One, because it tests my control. Two, because it reflects poorly on my dog-training ability. If she were better trained, she wouldn’t pull.
Reflecting on that feeling has helped me understand that I’m more annoyed with myself than with my dog, which is often the case with the things that annoy us most.
I sometimes find it annoying when my wife wastes time on her phone. But most of that feeling is actually driven by my annoyance with myself for wasting so much time on my phone. That understanding makes the annoyance disappear almost entirely.
There are, of course, other things that are legitimately annoying. Like when people refuse to be considerate of other people’s time, safety or wellbeing, or when people are mean. And anger can occasionally be an absolutely appropriate and useful response. Anger at police brutality and systemic racism is justifiable and encouraged. I wish more people were angry about it.
But even in these instances, creating a gap can be useful for channeling your annoyance and anger in the most productive ways possible. At the very least, it gives you a moment to consider whether anger is the right response, to check your facts, to more fully understand the situation and to ensure your anger is guided correctly.
It’s annoying to go through life feeling constantly annoyed, and reactive anger is almost always destructive.
Creating a gap between the things you find angering or annoying and actually feeling angry or annoyed gives you more power, more freedom, more control.
Growing up, my temper scared me. It’s scary to not know how you might react or what damage you might cause.
These days, I’m calm more often than not and I know how to create the gap I need to give myself the freedom to choose how I respond—sometimes with indifference, sometimes with immediate action, sometimes with slow yet stubborn resolve.
Don’t go through life feeling annoyed by every little thing. Don’t let anger control you.
Figure out how to give yourself the space you need to do what’s best for you. Let the things that don’t matter truly slide. Focus your anger on changing the parts of the world you simply cannot accept.
Anything less would be a waste of your time, energy and peace of mind.